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Clarkson opens blade test facility

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POTSDAM — When heavy winds and sudden storms hit hard, engineers and customers want to be sure their energy-producing wind turbines can take the hit. That’s where the new Blade Test Facility at Clarkson University comes in.

On Thursday Clarkson unveiled the facility, a partnership between the school, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Center for Evaluation of Clean Energy Technology.

The facility is designed to test blades up to 15 meters long, which are used on the small and mid-sized turbines that power homes, farms and businesses. It is the third facility of its kind in the country.

“This is a tremendously exciting opportunity for us,” said Clarkson University President Anthony G. Collins. He expressed his hope that the north country will become known as a hub of clean energy production, and that Clarkson would remain a key player.

“It will help Clarkson gain recognition for wind power technology,” he said.

The facility was two-and-a-half years in the making, drawing together public, private and academic interests.

“This facility is the first of its kind in the Northeast, and it comes at a particularly important time,” said Francis J. Murray Jr., NYSERDA’s president and CEO.

Wind power is becoming increasingly popular in the region, he said, and NYSERDA is striving to stay ahead of the times.

“CECET’s wind turbine test blade facility is an important step for the renewable energy industry in New York state,” he said.

Wind power companies will hire the facility to stress-test the integrity of their blades. Eventually, the hope is that the facility will make money, according to Mr. Murray.

“The goal is to make these things self-sustaining,” he said.

The equipment will be operated and maintained by Clarkson professors, doctorate students and graduate students.

After the speakers’ remarks, the crowd was ushered into the facility to see a test in action. The nine-meter blade was mounted to the wall and covered with sensors to measure the stresses applied.

When the test began, ropes attached to hydraulic motors begin pulling the blade down with about 2,000 pounds of pressure at its base. The facility is designed to simulate the effect of 25 years of buffeting winds in a matter of minutes.

Sometimes companies will want the center to test how their blades can handle normal wear; other times the center will be asked to push blade designs to the extreme by pushing them past the breaking point.

Five companies have expressed interest in working with the facility so far and, now that it is officially open, work is expected to begin soon.

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